Brigid Bergen: This is The Takeaway. I'm Brigid Bergen in for Melissa Harris-Perry.
M3GAN: This is M3GAN.
Cady: Hi, M3GAN. I'm Cady.
M3GAN: It's nice to meet you, Cady. Do you want to hang out?
Speaker 4: M3GAN, your goal is to protect Cady from harm, both physical and emotional.
Speaker 5: Is that a doll?
Speaker 4: Model 3 Generative Android, M3GAN for short.
Cady: I can't believe you made this. I love it.
Brigid Bergen: When the trailer for the new horror movie M3GAN dropped in October, it sent social media users into a frenzy. The campy, awkward dance moves of an AI-powered robotic doll inspired imitations on TikTok and fan edits on Twitter. Even Saturday Night Live got in on the fun.
Speaker 6: M3GAN is a box office powerhouse but just captivated one demographic above all, gay men.
Brigid Bergen: It's not just queer communities buzzing about M3GAN, viral videos of the sassy robotic doll twirling might have put the movie in the spotlight, but M3GAN's success speaks to how Hollywood is reimagining the horror genre.
Erik Piepenburg: My name is Erik Piepenburg. I write about horror movies, television, and LGBT culture for The New York Times.
Brigid Bergen: Erik spoke with Melissa Harris-Perry this week.
Erik Piepenburg: M3GAN is a new horror movie directed by Gerard Johnstone, and it is about a robotics engineer named Gemma who's played by Allison Williams, who enlists her orphaned niece, a girl named Cady to be a test subject companion to this robot named M3GAN. Cady develops a big sister relationship with M3GAN. They play together, they talk to one another, they do TikTok dances together, but this is the horror genre, and as any horror fan will tell you, robots often turn on their makers. Let's just say it doesn't go well for anyone in M3GAN's orbit.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I so appreciate that you started by saying it's a horror movie because in our team's Slack this morning there was a bit of a dust-up about is this a horror movie or is this a comedy.
Erik Piepenburg: I would actually argue that it is a horror comedy. It is firmly a horror movie if you asked me, but there's definitely a campy thing happening here which adds a little bit of comedy to it. I would say it's a horror comedy. I think that's fair.
Melissa Harris-Perry: But not a horrible comedy.
Erik Piepenburg: [laughs] No, it's a wonderful comedy, actually.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay. Tell me a little bit about M3GAN the doll. We know she is robotic, she's AI, and she's going to turn. Are there corollaries to M3GAN in our world right now who asks the mom of a nine-year-old who gave the kid a robot for Christmas?
Erik Piepenburg: I think there are. I'm not a parent but I have a niece and a nephew. I think that there are robots out there that if you gave it to them, they would think, "This is wonderful." It's a little bit of a babysitter but also a best friend. I'm old enough to remember My Buddy, which was the robot that we had in the '80s. I guess it was the '80s. It's like that, but in this case, M3GAN is AI and can have conversations and walks and runs, which comes in handy when she starts to pick up weapons and go after people who are really bullying Cady. There is a sense of this is a robot who can talk and is very expressive but she's also a protector figure.
Melissa Harris-Perry: M3GAN's trailer came out, coincided with National Coming Out Day, and lit up social media. Why that response?
Erik Piepenburg: I think one of the reasons was a couple of seconds of this strange, awkwardly leggy dance that M3GAN does to a Taylor Swift song that actually isn't in the movie at all. I remember watching the trailer and thinking to myself, "What is this move that she's doing?" She was gorgeous. She has beautiful big eyes and this middle part, and she's wearing this strange A-line dress. There was something in that move and in the way that M3GAN expresses herself that caught on, especially with the gay community. There was just something gay about it.
I remember thinking to myself, "This is not like any other horror movie that I've seen before. There's something fashion, there's something gay here." I think it all comes down to those just a couple seconds of this weird dance that she does.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. I want to dig into there is something gay or queer in the M3GAN persona. Some of it is perhaps the dance. Perhaps some of it is the stylized-- I do feel that this is definitely the Halloween-- It's only January, but somehow, we already know all the Halloween costumes in nine months are going to be M3GAN costumes, right?
Erik Piepenburg: No doubt.
Melissa Harris-Perry: There's no question about that. I wonder if there's also something here about-- as you point out her fierceness, her protectiveness, maybe even the fact that as AI she's definitely not blood family, but she's family.
Erik Piepenburg: [laughs] Right, that's true. It's interesting. I've had interviews with the director and the writer and they both said that-- I think, to them, one of the reasons that they think queer people might be drawn to M3GAN is because of this idea of chosen family and that family can be whoever you want. I think that's a perfectly fine answer, but to me, I think it goes beyond that. I think there's a gay sensibility to the film in the sense that M3GAN is this fierce girl who I grew up with. I knew girls like this in high school. They were fabulous and fashiony and we hung out and we went to concerts and we went to art museums.
They were a little messy but also looked amazing. These are gay best friends. As a gay man, I've known women like this since I was in high school, and I still know women like this. M3GAN's the kind of girl that you want to hang out with, and if you look at her cross side, I will fight you and she would do the same thing for me. I think there's this bond between gay men and straight women, I'm assuming M3GAN is straight, that I think is really very evident to any gay man who sees M3GAN. It's there. We know this girl, we have these girls in our life, and we would do anything to protect them and as they would for us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Right. M3GAN is like, "No, girl. No, no," but also, "Yes, yes."
Erik Piepenburg: Yes, yes. [laughs]
Brigid Bergen: We're talking about the film M3GAN. Back with more right after this.
Brigid Bergen: Okay, we're back with Erik Piepenburg from The New York Times talking about the film M3GAN.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I've been very open about my really problematic habit of watching rom-com holiday films really, basically from the day after Halloween until New Year's. I don't really want to talk about it, it's just what happened for two months in my household. Part of the joy of that over the past two or three years has been the introduction of queer rom-coms into this genre, so playing with all of those tropes. I'm wondering about queer tropes in the context of horror and maybe particularly horror-comedy, especially at a time when it can feel heavy in queer communities where there's so much attack in terms of legislation and policy and brutal discourse, and nonetheless, here's M3GAN.
Erik Piepenburg: Well, first of all, let me say, strangely, there are a lot of people involved in holiday rom-coms who are also horror movie writers. I think that's a whole another topic. There's a connection between holiday rom-coms and horror movies.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That so seems right. Yes, it seems right. [laughs]
Erik Piepenburg: I'm a part of that. I love holiday rom-coms as much as I do horror movies, so I think there's definitely a crossover there. To your point, horror has always reflected the world in which we've lived. You go back to Night of the Living Dead and the civil rights era, you go to the horrors of the '70s and '80s and war and conservative politics, horror movies have always held a mirror up to how we are living. I think for queer people, that mirror has reflected often very negative things. As I said, I'm Gen X and I remember growing up during the golden age of slasher films in the '80s when gay people were completely invisible.
They just weren't there, or if they were there, they were clowns. They were often the first people killed. I think horror has changed so much since then. I think things are better now for gay characters in horror movies. I think you couldn't make a homophobic horror movie like you could even just 20 years ago when in Freddy vs. Jason, Kelly Rowland's character called Freddy the f-slur. I remember being in the theater at the time and hearing people cheering and thinking, "Wow, I don't feel safe in this theater," because of the reaction to hearing that word. That was 20 years ago.
In the history of cinema, that's not that long ago, and obviously, it still sticks with me. I think horror has a very complicated history with queerness. Things are better than they were when I was growing up. I think M3GAN is an example of a film that there's nothing gay in the story itself but there's a queer sensibility. I think that's actually really exciting.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there something in M3GAN that is more than just a one-off? I suppose the various success of it means that Hollywood will do what it does and try to make things that are like it, but I'm wondering if it tells us something about the future of horror.
Erik Piepenburg: There is already a M3GAN sequel in the works, of course, which I'm actually very excited about. I can't wait to see what she does next. I think what's interesting in terms of what M3GAN might mean for other directors, queer or not, I should say that Gerard Johnstone, who directed M3GAN, is a straight married guy with kids, but I think what M3GAN can do is, I think it can say to other directors, "You can make a horror film that's queer and still have nothing gay about it," which I think is really exciting.
We're at a point where there are so many gay characters in all kinds of movies right now, which is such a departure from what it was when I was growing up. You can turn on Netflix or Hulu or anything else and just see gay character after gay character. Now I think what M3GAN is going to do, especially in the horror genre, is say, "You can be queer and not have anything gay." I think that's going to be a really exciting path to see. What does it mean to be a queer movie with nothing queer in it?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Erik Piepenburg from The New York Times. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.
Erik Piepenburg: Thanks for having me.
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